It was a year of milestones for the world's biggest social network, from a much-hyped initial public offering to reaching 1 billion active users. There were new product roll outs, patent tussles, and a major acquisition – and that was just the first half of the year.
Facebook kicked off 2012 on a political note, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which were making their way through Congress. “Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the Internet,” he said plainly in a January blog post. Like Twitter, Facebook did not take part in the Internet Blackout Day on Jan. 18, keeping the site online in order to facilitate discussion about the issue. But opposition from the social network and other high-profile Web firms helped kill the bills.
By month's end, the focus shifted to Facebook's IPO. The tech press and finance world waiting expectantly for the close of the market on Jan. 31, when the social network filed for a $5 billion IPO. That filing included a number of interesting tidbits – from who Facebook viewed as its major rivals and how important Zynga was to Facebook's bottom line to the company's lagging mobile strategy and Facebook's biggest fears.
Facebook officially went public on May 18 at $38 per share. Zuckerberg (in a hoodie, naturally) and several hundred Facebook employees were on hand at the company's California headquarters to ring the opening bell for the NASDAQ. But it wasn't the blockbuster opening for which tech-savvy investors were hoping. Several days later, a group of investors filed suit against Facebook and several investment banks over what they consider to be misleading information about the social network's IPO.
Organ Donation to Facebook Gifts: New Product Roll outs
IPO drama aside, Facebook also rolled out a number of product enhancements this year, from Timelines to new privacy policies.
In mid-February, Facebook started testing an update to its Subscribe feature that let people with a large number of subscribers verify their identities. That allowed for the use of alternate names, in some cases (P. Diddy vs. Sean Combs, for example).
By May, the social network rolled out the option to designate yourself as an organ donor. It was intended as a way to spread awareness among your Facebook friends, and to inform family members of your intentions should they ever need to provide consent.
The following month, Facebook jumped into the app space with the launch of App Center, a collection of free social applications for for the Web and mobile platforms, including Nike+ GPS, Ubisoft Ghost Recon Commander, Stitcher Radio, Draw Something, and Pinterest.
Just in time for the holidays, meanwhile, the social network launched Facebook Gifts, which allows users to send real gifts to their Facebook friends.
Not all new Facebook features were met with open arms. The “Sponsored Stories” effort, which added users' photos to ads displayed on the network, resulted in a lawsuit. It ended with a May settlement, but that was initially rejected; a judge only recently approved a revised deal.
An effort to “finds friends nearby” via location-based tracking, meanwhile, was a bit too creepy for some users, and Facebook ditched the idea. Members were also a little irked when the social network forced @facebook.com email addresses on its users.
Across the pond, meanwhile, regulators were less than enthused by Facebook's facial-recognition tool and the rule requiring the use of real name son the social network.
Privacy Updates, Meltdowns
Last month, meanwhile, Facebook announced that it would stop putting policy changes up for a vote on the social network. But in order to make that move, the social network had to … put it up for a vote. Despite protests from consumer groups, the change didn't really bother Facebook's user base, and it was approved in mid-December.
The year ended, meanwhile, with an effort to simplify privacy settings yet again. It was met with less controversy and started rolling out in mid-December.
Another privacy-related issue cropped up March when it was reported that employers were asking for access to peoples' Facebook accounts. Facebook condemned the practice, and several states – like California – took up legislation that banned employers from asking for that information.
Go Big or Go Home (With Filters)
Part of that controversial “vote on voting” change included a provision that would allow Facebook to integrate more closely with Instagram. Why? Well, Zuckerberg dropped a cool $1 billion on the photo-sharing site in April.
“With the support and cross-pollination of ideas and talent at a place like Facebook, we hope to create an even more exciting future for Instagram and Facebook alike,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said at the time.
Thus far, Facebook and Instagram have remained separate entities. But Instagram managed to get in a spat with Twitter later in the year when it removed support for Twitter Cards. The move removed the option to view Instagram photos within your Twitter feed. Later, language added to Instagram's terms of service caused an uproar with language that suggested Instagram could sell your photos without permission. Instagram insisted that was not the case, though.